Stansted: Passenger numbers down again in March, but rate of decline eases

PASSENGER numbers at Stansted Airport fell again last month despite an earlier start to the Easter holiday period, figures from owner BAA revealed today.

A total of 1.297million passengers passed through Stansted during March, 4.7% down on the same month a year earlier.

The rate of decline was lower than that recorded during the opening two months of 2012, with the year-to-date total down 5.3% at 3.472million, and the rolling 12-month total of 17,847million for the year to March represents a fall of 2.5%, against 2.7% for the year to February.

But in contrast, BAA said passenger numbers at Heathrow last month were 6.9% higher compared with March 2011 at 5.687million, with growth of 4.4% for 2012 so far and 6.0% over the past 12 months.

BAA said the increase had been assisted by Easter falling slightly earlier this year, with the pre-Easter getaway having started in March and helped to take the rolling 12-month total at Heathrow above the 70million mark for the first time.

The figures come days after it emerged that managers at Stansted have approached the Civil Aviation Authority to ease the burden of regulatory restrictions which are claimed to cost the airport around �20,000 a week.

In an interview with The Times, Stansted managing director Nick Barton said Stansted was operating in a “very competitive market”, both in the UK and in Europe.

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If the costs of regulatory compliance were lifted the savings could be passed on to airlines and passengers, he argued, enabling Stansted to make better use of its capacity which is around double the current annual passenger total.

He said the CAA’s existiing regulatory regime was based on an assumption that Stansted retained “substantial market power”.

However, this was contradicted by intense competition from Stansted’s nearest neighbour, Luton, the loss of some flights to Gatwick, the recent launch by easyJet of some flights from newly-expanded facilities at Southend and the switch by Ryanair of investment to the continent.

Mr Barton added that the question of the airport’s ownership, with BAA currently planning court action to appeal against a Competition Appeal Tribunal ruling that it must sell Stansted, was clouding the issue.

However, Stansted’s major airline customers, notably Ryanair, would be unlikely to welcome deregulation unless it were also accompanied by a change of ownership, with Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary having previously accused BAA of exploiting airlines and passengers.

Elsewhere, March was a mixed month for BAA’s other airports with Glasgow and Aberdeen showing growth of 4.6% 10.2% respectively compared with March last year while Edinburgh, which BAA has agreed to sell under pressure from the competition authorities, was down 2.8% and Southampton was down 1.7%.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: “Reaching 70million passengers at Heathrow is a major milestone, demonstrating the resilience of the airport in an otherwise challenging economic environment. Increases in load factors drove this.

“However, Heathrow continues to operate at 99.2% capacity, placing constraints on airlines’ ability to introduce new flights to the emerging economies which are so vital to UK economic growth.”